Before we start our postseason countdown of the top 25 players in the SEC in 2013, a few reminders are in order.
This list is based solely on performance during the 2013 season, those players who played the best -- particularly in key games and in clutch situations -- and had the most profound impacts on their teams. We consulted with coaches in the league, as well as analysts, scouts and other media members. And while we went back and examined stats, stats alone weren't always the determining factor.
When it was close, we looked at how players performed against SEC and/or nationally ranked competition. Other factors such as durability, versatility, consistency, leadership and a player’s ability to raise his teammates’ level of play were also considered.
This is not a list of the top NFL draft prospects. There will be some players who go in the top two or three rounds of the 2014 draft that are not in our countdown.
Again, our goal was to pick the SEC’s 25 best players from this past season without regard to position.
Here goes with No. 25. As usual, we’re sure everybody will be in full agreement:
No. 25: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Sr.
2013 summary: Gaines led all SEC cornerbacks with 75 total tackles, including four for loss. He tied for second in the league with five interceptions and was a first-team All-SEC selection by both the coaches and Associated Press.
Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the 2013 preseason countdown.
Making the case for Gaines: A starter in the Mizzou secondary since his sophomore season, Gaines is fearless back there. He re-established himself this season as one of the top lockdown corners in the league and showed a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He had an 11-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the SEC championship game to give Missouri a second-quarter lead. Teams weren't always quick to challenge Gaines. But when they did, he was almost always in position to make a play. Gaines validated himself as one of the top corners in college football in Missouri's 28-21 win over Texas A&M to clinch the Eastern Division title in the regular-season finale. He helped hold Texas A&M star receiver Mike Evans to a season-low eight receiving yards on four catches.